Archive for September, 2012

From an antiquarian dealer in Massachusetts, we have just acquired a letter dated August 23, 1802 from Barbados by former Hartford resident “Mrs. Bunce” (a prominent Hartford family) to her daughter, “My Dear Anne.”  The writer laments the loss of a female friend who left two “fine, fine Boys,” and tells of her “distress” concerning “the misfortune of William being Press’d on board of a Man of War and we have not heard a syllable about him since that time which is about 18 months.” She hopes for happy days “if my affairs were settled with you & My Dear Aunt Olcott as well as all my Hartford friends.” She says this letter goes by Jack, about whom she complains greatly because of his not visiting, although “I must excuse such visits knowing the circumstances on board of a Vessel.” Her P. S. closes by saying “all the rest of the Blacks begs to be remembered.” This would be a superb subject for a history paper–who were the Bunce’s of Hartford? Did they have a plantation in Barbados? Are the sons, William and Jack, sailors of note? It is likely that there are family papers at the Hartford History Center, or the Connecticut Historical Society.

“The Blue-green Warbler has a peculiar cunning manner of leaning downwards to view a person, or while searching for an insect, and which is very different from that of any other bird, although I am unable to describe it.  While thus leaning, it moves its head sideways so very slowly that the motion is hardly perceptible, unless much attention is paid to it.  After this, it either starts off and flies to some distance from the observer, or darts towards the prey that had attracted its notice.  While catching an insect on the wing, it produces a slight clicking sound with its bill, and in this respect approaches the Vireos.  Like some of them also, it descends from the highest tops of the trees to low bushes, and eats small berries, particularly towards autumn, when insects begin to fail . . .

The plant on which I have figured a male is found in Louisiana, growing along the skirts of woods and by fences.  It is called the Spanish Mulberry.  It is a herbaceous perennial plant, attaining a height of from four to eight feet.  The fruits are eaten by children, but are insipid.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 258-259 [excerpted].


Don’t get sick (in the 19thC!)

   Posted by: rring    in Gifts, New acquisition

Manchester, CT physician Dr. Tris Carta  and Angelee Diana Carta ’77, P ’11, gave several nice 19th-century medical books to the Library, which will enhance our already nice array of items on the spectrum from quackery to the latest scientific works.  Three of the books are detailed here:

Burney James Kendall (1845-1922) was an 1868 graduate of the University of Vermont’s Medical College. During the 1870s, he devised a “cure” for spavin (an equine joint ailment), and incorporated the Dr. B. J. Kendall Company in 1883 to manufacture his horse liniment.  The company’s product line gradually expanded to include treatments for a wide variety of animal and human ailments, and the company’s wagons ranged far and wide selling the medicines and distributing booklets–such as A Treatise on the Horse and His Diseases (a copy of which is already in the Watkinson) and The Doctor at Home. Illustrated. Treating the Diseases of Man and the Horse (the copy shown here, published in 1884, was recently given to us by a physician in Manchester).  According to the “publisher’s announcement,”we feel assured that we are supplying one of the greatest lacks in every household, by placing therein a work so plain and simple in its language that the most ignorant will have no difficulty in understanding it . . . if you cannot find all the information you desire by carefully studying this book, your case is probably one which should have the attention of some intelligent physician.”

Signed by the author, American physician and founder of a patent medicine company, Dr. Samuel Sheldon Fitch (1801-1876) received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia in 1828. He began trading under the name “Dr. S. S. Fitch,” and about 1851 he began issuing almanacs, Dr. S.S. Fitch’s Almanac and Guide to Invalids, which promoted his patent medicines and medical devices, and prescribes health regimens and cures for consumption, asthma, heart diseases, bronchitis, head-aches, dyspepsia, ague and fever, liver complaint, diarrhoea, baldness and hair loss, and whatever else ailed you. An advertisement in the 1854 Boston Herald annouced that a local doctor was the “Agency for Dr. S.S. Fitch’s Celebrated Medicines and Mechanical Remedies for cure of Consumption, Asthma, Female Diseases, etc.”.  Included are testimonial letters from former patients, advice to “Invalid Ladies” & “Invalid Gentlemen,” and discussions of such topics as the function of the lungs & causes of consumption, cure of throat diseases, cold bathing, diet, spinal diseases, diseases of the heart, asthma, the effects of dancing, the use of inhaling tubes, the effect of journeys, sea voyages, and warm climate, among many others.

Thomas Ewell (1785-1826) was a Virginia-born physician who studied under (among others) Dr. Benjamin Rush at the University of Pennsylvania, and served as a naval surgeon in Washington from 1808-1813.  He is said to have invented and used a method of making gunpowder by rolling, instead of the (more dangerous) pounding method.  The Letters to Ladies (1817), shown here, included a project for establishing a large lying-in hospital in Washington through a nation-wide fundraising effort. The obstetrical engraving (right) is particularly interesting.

Ewell was (according to the Dictionary of American Biography) “a man of distinguished professional attainments and marked talent for research and invention, with a turn for ridicule, however, and convivial habits which weakened his health.”



“So scarce is this bird in the Middle Districts, that its discovery in the State of Pennsylvania has been made a matter of much importance.  Its habits are consequently very little known, even at the present day, and it would appear that only two individuals have been seen by our American ornithologists, one of which, a young female, has been figured by the Prince of Musignano. …

I have no precise recollection of the time when I first made a drawing of this pretty little bird, but know this well, that a drawing which I had of it was one of the unfortunate collection destroyed by the rats at Henderson.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 255 [excerpted].

” . . . No sooner has the returning sun again introduced the vernal season, and caused millions of plants to expand their leaves and blossoms to his genial beams, than the little Humming Bird is seen advancing on fairy wings, carefully visiting every opening flower-cup, and, like a curious florist, removing from each the injurious insects that otherwise would ere long cause their beauteous petals to droop and decay.  Poised in the air, it is observed peeping cautiously, and with sparkling eye, into their innermost recesses, whilst the ethereal motions of its pinions, so rapid and so light, appear to fan and cool the flower, without injuring its fragile texture, and produce a delightful murmuring sound, well adapted for lulling the insects to repose.  Its long delicate bill enters the cup of the flower, and the protruded, double-tubed tongue, delicately sensible, and imbued with a glutinous saliva, touches each insect in succession, and draws it from its lurking place, to be instantly swallowed . . .

I have represented ten of these pretty and most interesting birds, in various positions, flitting, feeding, caressing each other, or sitting on the slender stalks of the Trumpet-flower and pluming themselves.  The diversity of action and attitude thus exhibited, may, I trust, prove sufficient to present a faithful idea of their appearance and manners.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 248-253 [excerpted].

“. . . when nature, on the eve of preparing for approaching night, permits useful dews to fall and rest on every plant, with the view of reviving its leaves, its fruits, or its lingering blossoms, ere the return of morn; when every night-insect rises on buzzing wings from the ground, and the fire-fly, amidst thousands of other species, appears as if purposely to guide their motions through the sombre atmosphere; at the moment when numerous reptiles and quadrupeds commence their nocturnal prowlings, and the fair moon, empress of the night, rises peacefully on the distant horizon, shooting her silvery rays over the heavens and the earth, and, like a watchful guardian, moving slowly and majestically along; when the husbandman, just returned to his home, after the labours of the day, is receiving the cheering gratulations of his family, and the wholesome repast is about to be spread out for master and servants alike; –it is at this moment, kind reader, that . . . your ear would suddenly be struck by the discordant screams of the Barred Owl.  Its whah, whah, whah, whah-aa is uttered loudly, and in so strange and ludicrous a manner, that I should not be surprised were you, kind reader, when you and I meet, to compare these sounds to the affected bursts of laughter which you may have heard from some of the fashionable members of our own species.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 242 [excerpted].